“Cast your nets, wanderers! Try me with your questions, and let the contest begin.”
—Blaine the Mono, to Roland and the Ka-Tet, at the end of The Waste Lands
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
When we last left our cast, Susan had been knocked around and taken by Jonas, Sheemie was in hiding somewhere in the Bad Grass, and our boys were lying in wait for the entourage carrying the Wizard’s Glass.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 12
Ah, here’s Sheemie. He’s hiding in the tall Bad Grass, watching as Susan spits in Jonas’s face and they take her with them. Mentally, he’s begging Susan not to make them mad, but she does. He ponders whether to go after his friend Arthur Heath and the boys, or whether he should follow Susan. But Susan’s trail is clear, so he follows on foot.
What Constant Reader Learns: Still love Sheemie, and am hoping the comment “good old Arthur Heath…so Sheemie still thought of him, and always would” means that Sheemie, at least, will get out of this story alive.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 13
Cuthbert is growing impatient as they wait and wait for Jonas and Co. He goes off to pout after Alain snaps at him. “Waiting,” he says. “That’s what most of our time in Mejis is about, and it’s the thing I do worst.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Me too, Bert! Let’s get this show moving! Although I do appreciate the irony of having a short section in which nothing happens except having the character complain that nothing is happening.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 14
Jonas finally catches up with Fran Lengyll’s party and Susan can’t resist trying to embarrass him after the role he played in her father’s death, actually managing to kick him in the back from her horse and knock him down. For this, she earns a “wallop” to her head, but still has enough sense about her to enjoy watching Lengyll scuttle back to his men. Rhea, of course, is enjoying the show, cackling in her cart.
Jonas says he’s going to send Reynolds back to Seafront with Susan, and Reynolds is relieved to not be going to Hanging Rock, about which he has a bad feeling.
Announcing that he “has a piece of property to take back,” Jonas rides back to Rhea, flanked by Reynolds and Depape. Rhea’s not thrilled about this, and threatens to break it before she’ll give it up. Jonas has Reynolds pull his gun on her, and starts counting to three. At the last nanosecond, she breaks and thrusts it toward him.
As he takes it, Jonas’s mind “was a white explosion of exultation. For the first time in his long professional life he forgot his job, his surroundings, and the six thousand things that could get him killed on any day.” But after a moment, he gets enough control to hang the bag that contains the glass on his saddle, which allows him a little relief from its influence.
Next, he gives Rhea the count of ten to get lost, and she doesn’t wait: “Spitting curses, Rhea snatched up the reins of the cart and spanked the pony’s back with them. The pony laid its ears back and jerked the cart forward so vigorously that Rhea went tumbling backward off the cantboard, her feet up, her white and bony shins showing above her ankle-high black shoes and mismatched wool stockings.” She curses at them as she rides away.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Rhea hands over the glass, she tells Jonas she hopes it damns him just as it’s damned her. I think this is the first time we’ve had any acknowledgement that Rhea realized what the glass was doing to her.
Jonas’s reaction when he gets the glass in his hand: Mine. (Precioussssss.)
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 15
Jonas tells Reynolds to go ahead and take “Sunbeam” Susan to Coral and tell her to “keep the wench someplace safe until she hears from me.” He also asks Reynolds to stay with Coral and escort her to the mining town of Ritzy, which is where Jonas hopes to meet up with Coral again. This is fine with Reynolds, and he leads Susan away. She’s become silent since her last wallop upside the head.
Jonas tells his men they number almost forty, and the group they’ll be joining has another hundred and fifty. All of them against three “little boys.” He pumps them into a killing frenzy, so they’re all ready to go out and destroy the boys. But only after they get the tankers moved to the woods west of Eyebolt Canyon.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m guessing Jonas has unwittingly just saved Clay Reynolds’ life by sending him to escort Coral from Hambry instead of joining them at Hanging Rock. We’ll see. And, even now, he’s still thinking of Roland, Al, and Bert as kids. Dangerous kids, maybe, but still kids.
Jonas keeps touching the sack that’s holding the Wizard’s Glass, and it gives him “pink strength.” It will be interesting to see what happens when Roland gets his hands on it, because we know he will.
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Sheemie is almost mowed down by Rhea riding her cart past him, screaming and gibbering. He’s thankful she didn’t see him, lest she turn him into “a bird or a bumbler or maybe even a mosquito.”
When Jonas and his men ride away, this time they leave Capi the mule behind. And while it surely would be easier to follow by mule, Sheemie figures Capi would bray at the wrong time and give him away. So, instead, he follows Susan and Reynolds on foot.
What Constant Reader Learns: If nothing else, Sheemie knows right from wrong. He feels “shamed…to know how many Mejis cowboys were doing that bad Coffin Hunger’s bidding.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 17
Alain’s touch tells him the riders are on their way again—“all of them.” Roland tells Cuthbert that much of their success will lie with him and his slingshot.
This is also, Roland realizes, his friends’ day of testing. “Today it was Cuthbert and Alain’s turn to be tested—not in Gilead, in the traditional place of proving behind the Great Hall, but here in Mejis, on the edge of the Bad Grass, in the desert, and in the canyon.”
“Prove or die,” Alain says. “That’s what it comes down to.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I like this description of Cuthbert as they prepare for the riders. “With the laughter gone from them, he had the hollow eyes of just one more killer.” In fact, all the boys have turned into gunslingers, only with a little more trepidation as they realize the time is approaching when their game will be won or lost.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 18
Reynolds and Susan continue to ride toward Seafront, and the farther they get from Jonas, the faster Reynolds wants to ride. When he stops to relieve himself, Susan takes some satisfaction in seeing the herd of horses on the drop untended and beginning to stray.
She can’t help taunting Reynolds a bit, talking about how he’s afraid, and if he’d let her go, maybe her friends would go easy on him.
What Constant Reader Learns: In some perverse way, I kind of like Clay Reynolds. I don’t know what his background is, really, and he’s probably not an important enough character for us to know that. But he at least is painted with a fuller brush than Roy Depape, so his personality has a few nuances.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 19
Uh oh, back to poor old Aunt Cordelia. She’s sleep-deprived and half crazed. All her hopes have been dashed “by two willful young people who couldn’t keep their pants up.” She’s indulging in some serious self-pity: “They’ll find me dead in this chair, someday—old, poor, and forgotten.”
She hears a “weak scratching” at the window and—surprise!—it’s Rhea. Cord recognizes her, even in the witch’s horrific condition. But even though Cord has no social standing left, she says “I can’t have such as thee in my house…I have a reputation…Folk watch me close, so they do.” (Actually, no they don’t.)
But Rhea has the magic words: “I know where [Susan] is…We have women’s work.” So Cord helps her inside. Rhea pulls out a silver charm and hypnotizes Cordelia with it, then issues some orders. Cordelia agrees, then goes to get a knife because Rhea needs “refreshing.” She cuts into her own stomach, and Rhea drinks the blood.
What Constant Reader Learns: Love the gross-out description of Rhea: “The crone’s stringy white hair (what remained of it) hung in her face. Sores festered on her cheeks and brow; her lips had split and drizzled blood down her pointed, warty chin. The corneas of her eyes had gone a filthy gray-yellow, and she panted like a cracked bellows as she moved.”
Well, sheesh, that’s just… gross. Another blood sacrifice of a different sort.
A reference to the Tower! Just before Rhea enjoys her O-positive cocktail, she says of the blood: “Like roses. I dream of them often enough, roses in bloom, and what stands black among ‘em at the end of the world.”
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Roland has a brief moment of fear that the approaching riders are going to come right upon them and kill them “like a nest of moles uncovered by the blade of a passing plow.”
The boys pull their guns and are glad to see the riders have strung out farther apart since departing the Bad Grass, which will make their plan easier. As soon as the riders pass, the boys get on their horses.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice end to this short section: “Mount up,” Roland tells Alain and Cuthbert. “Reaping’s come.” A master of understatement, Roland.
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The boys walk their horses to the edge of the Bad Grass, about two hundred yards behind the last of Jonas’s riders. Roland and company fall in behind them, worried some of the riders will turn around and notice them, but the wind’s blowing sand in the riders’ faces and no one’s watching. When they get twenty yards behind, Bert begins loading his slingshot and dropping the riders. Once three riders are down, they begin to gallop. Roland and Alain draw their knives and take out four more.
What Constant Reader Learns: The winds of ka are blowing in the boys’ favor, so they’re able to steadily take out the rear riders without the other riders realizing what’s going on. Gotta admit it is a clever plan, particularly with a little suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 22
By the time Roland has to draw his gun and take a rider out, they’ve felled ten—a quarter of Jonas’s men. Now, he knows, “the first part of the job was done. No more stealth; now it was a matter of raw killing.”
“To me, gunslingers!” he shouts. “Ride them down! No prisoners!”
They ride into battle for the first time, “closing like wolves on sheep, shooting before the men ahead of them had any slight idea of who had gotten in behind them or what was happening. The three boys had been trained as gunslingers, and what they lacked in experience they made up for with the keen eyes and reflexes of the young. Under their guns, the desert east of Hanging Rock became a killing floor.”
Ahead, finally, Roland spots Jonas, Depape, and Lengyll reining their horses around to see what’s behind them. Hash Renfrew tries to fire, but “Roland had no thought of retreating, or perhaps jigging to one side or the other. He had, in fact, no thoughts at all. The fever had descended over his mind and he burned with it like a torch inside a glass sleeve.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Here we have baby gunslinger hands taking over: “Screaming, not a single thought among them above the wrists of their deadly hands, they sliced into the unprepared Mejis party like a three-sided blade, shooting as they went.”
Some classic Saturday afternoon western imagery in this section as the boys gallop full-tilt, Roland firing his pistols and clutching the reins in his teeth.
It’s pretty cool to see not only how hapless the “vaqueros” are, but how utterly outmatched they are by these three boys. The difference between even unproven gunslingers and others is striking and well shown in these sections. Don’t you just know that Eldred Jonas has been used to being the biggest, baddest man around—only to be forced to face up to his inadequacy in the face of a real, albeit young, gunslinger.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 9, Reaping, Section 23
Jonas is riding along happily until he hears words from his past: “Hile! To me! No prisoners!” and he knows the boys have caught them. He is aware of the Wizard’s Glass in its bag hanging from the pommel of his saddle. “Then the kid [Roland] was firing, and he was good—better than anyone Jonas had ever seen in his life.”
Jonas watches Renfrew fall. Lengyll tries to order the boys to stop and gets a bullet in his forehead for the trouble. Depape gets his revolver caught in his serape and doesn’t get it out before Roland blows his face off.
Jonas, meanwhile, is still trying to make sense of it: “This can’t be happening,” he thinks. “There are too many of us.” The rest of Jonas’s men are scattering, though. He finally snatches the drawstring bag with the glass in it and holds it up. “Come any closer and I’ll smash it,” he says. “I mean it, you damned puppy! Stay where you are!”
But Roland’s head is out to lunch and his hands aren’t listening. Then, instead of thinking of Roland as a puppy, Jonas thinks, “It’s Arthur Eld himself come to take me.”
Still, he thinks, hopes, that Roland won’t risk losing the wizard’s glass.
Roland shoots him in the hand, then catches the bag in mid-air. Finally, Jonas gets two bullets in the face, and “the man with the white hair landed spread-eagled on his back with a thump. His arms and legs spasmed, jerked, trembled, then stilled.”
He rides back to Alain and Cuthbert, who “sat their horses side by side in the blowing dust, at the end of a scattered road of dead bodies, their eyes wide and dazed—eyes of boys who have passed through fire for the first time and can hardly believe they have not been burned.”
Finally, Roland pulls out the wizard’s glass, which is pulsing with pink light. Bert tells him to put it away, that they don’t have time because the riders who got away will spread the word to the larger group ahead. But Roland was caught. “He held [the glass] up to his eyes, unaware that he had smeared it with droplets of Jonas’s blood. The ball did not mind; this was not the first time it had been blood-touched. It flashed and swirled formlessly for a moment, and then its pink vapors opened like curtains. Roland saw what was there, and lost himself within it.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Lengyll tries to stop the boys “in the name of the Horsemen’s Association” ...Really? Man, you deserve to be shot in the head.
Interesting observation: “When Roland remembered all this later, it was distant and silent and queerly warped, like something seen in a flawed mirror…or a wizard’s glass.”
Roland and the glass…uh-oh.
I’m going to miss Jonas. I find myself regretting that he won’t be around to see what is bound to be the brilliance of the Eyebolt Canyon plan.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, Chapter 10, “Beneath the Demon Moon (II).”